Last week more than 500 behavioral health advocates traveled to Washington, D.C. to work with our elected delegation and promote the behavioral health needs of those back home. National Council for Behavioral Health puts on Hill Day each year in Washington D.C. to not only provide members with the opportunity to meet with the elected officials, but also to come together and learn from each other and leading experts in the field. Nebraska had a small but mighty team representing this year and we were able to make some progress with a few officials.
Hill Day always starts with a day full of education and training so everyone feels prepared to meet their delegation the next day, no matter if it’s your first time in Washington, D.C. or you’re a seasoned advocate. This year the training day kicked off with Nicolle Wallace igniting the audience and sharing her expertise about Washington D.C. and her thoughts on the political climate facing us. Ms. Wallace served as the Former White House Communications Director under George W. Bush and for his 2004 re-election campaign. She also served as a senior advisor for John McCain’s 2008 presidential campaign. She currently serves as the anchor of Deadline: White House and as chief political analyst for MSNBC and NBC News. She was a dynamic speaker who won the crowd over with her wit, humor, and knowledge of all things Washington.
We also were provided breakout session opportunities to learn about federal funding streams, mental health parity, advocacy, corrections and mental health, and several others. There were some exciting moments throughout the day when mental health champions who serve in our Senate and Congress came to rev up the crowd and urge them to share their stories to ignite change. The day ended with a panel of individuals with lived experience who bravely shared their stories and educated us on how they have facilitated change through their advocacy efforts. It was an incredible day that prepared us all to hit the Hill on Wednesday to advocate for all Nebraskans.
Our team attended the Nebraska Breakfast on Wednesday morning, which is the longest standing event of its kind in Washington, D.C., running since 1943 each Wednesday that both houses are in session. It is an incredible event if you’ve never had the opportunity to attend while out in our nation’s capital. It was so heartwarming to see young and old alike come together to celebrate our state and meet with our delegation. We also had the unique opportunity to attend the dedication of Chief Standing Bear statue in the Hall of Statues in the Capitol. It was an incredible experience that had a lasting impact on those of us who attended.
While we know behavioral health isn’t a priority for all of our delegation, it was encouraging to see the interest and passion by two of our Congressman in particular, Congressman Don Bacon and Congressmen Adrian Smith. Both listened intently and shared our passion to make sure all Nebraskans were healthy – both physically and mentally, and had access to the care they needed. We look forward to pursuing potential legislation, gaining their support on existing legislation, and working with them to ensure quality whole health opportunities for Nebraskans. Thank you to them both!
Julia Hebenstreit, Executive Director of The Kim Foundation
Julia Hebenstreit is the Executive Director of The Kim Foundation. She received her J.D. from Creighton University in 2005, and her BS in Journalism from the University of Nebraska Omaha in 2002. She has been with The Kim Foundation since 2011, and prior to that worked for local non-profits doing development, strategic planning, communications and advancement. She has a passion for helping people and improving lives, and serves on the Executive Committee for Nebraska Association of Behavioral Health Organizations, as the 2015 Hill Day State Captain for the state of Nebraska, and as an active member of the Nebraska Suicide Prevention Coalition, the Early Childhood Mental Health Coalition, BHECN Advisory Committee, RESPECT Advisory Board, Connections Advisory Board and the Project Propel Planning Group.